An international passenger is arriving at JFK to transit to another domestic airport. The passenger will need to clear customs (with their baggage). Once baggage is in PAX custody, I assume that checking in said bags is required for the domestic flight. Once the bags are checked-in for the domestic flight:

Should the passenger expect and plan to undergo TSA inspection for the domestic flight?

Is there any instance where this would not happen (i.e. all activities in first paragraph occur in the 'sterile area' of airport?

If you have actually performed this exercise, please state this in your response.

An international arrival followed by a transfer does not always imply a terminal change. This question is different from At JFK, can you move between terminals airside on domestic flights? because it is possible to arrive and transfer within the SAME terminal. For example, arrive at JFK T5 on Jetblue from an international flight and transfer within the same terminal to another Jetblue domestic flight. As phoog has pointed out, the question the question is more complicated in that it is comprises international complications, not merely a domestic flight.

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    @PeterM while that question mentions international to domestic transfers, it's actually asking about domestic to domestic transfers, so it is not a duplicate. – phoog Aug 2 '19 at 21:35
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    Yes, you need to go through TSA security screening when connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight. However, in most airports there is a separate TSA screening for connections from international arrivals, which has little or no wait, unlike the TSA screening from people entering from outside the airport, which often have long lines. – user102008 Aug 4 '19 at 7:44
  • There are airports now in the US which transfer luggage but I think that's only for international-international only. – chx Aug 4 '19 at 20:08

Yes, you have to undergo TSA screening. There's no way to avoid this because some items that are allowed in checked luggage are forbidden in the cabin. Knives come to mind as an example. The only way to be sure that a traveler hasn't removed such an item from the checked luggage is to screen the traveler.

As noted elsewhere, there is likely to be a dedicated checkpoint for transferring passengers with shorter wait times.

I also note that this holds for travelers who have not checked luggage. The only way to avoid it would be to have dedicated passport and customs clearance for travelers without checked bags, and I am unaware of such facilities anywhere.

  • Downvoter, please explain. – phoog Aug 4 '19 at 21:44

As a general rule, all passengers arriving into (or even transiting through) the US are required to clear immigration and customs at their first point of arrival to the US. Having done this, they will be left land-side in the airport - at least in part because as a part of clearing customs they will have had access to their luggage, so could have taken items out of their luggage that are not allowed through security.

In order to continue on to a connecting flight, they will need to re-check their checked luggage (if any), and then pass through security (TSA).

However, there is one main exceptions to this general rule.

That exception is "Pre-Clearance", which is a process where passengers pass through US immigration and customs at their departure airport. On arrival in the US, these passengers are treated the same way that domestic passengers would be in that they are let out air-side, and would not need to re-clear security unless (for example) they needed to move to a different terminal which was not connected airside to the terminal they arrived in (specifically for JFK, most terminals are NOT connected air-side in any way).

The full list of pre-clearance departure airports is on the site linked above, but basically includes most (major) airports in Canada, a few in the Caribbean, Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Most (but not necessarily all) passengers from these airports will go through the pre-clearance facility before departure.

  • Everything in this answer is true but I think the overall impression is very misleading. Saying that people need to recheck their bags and pass through security makes it sound like they have to go to the check-in desks and through main security. This is not the case: immediately after customs, there is a dedicated baggage drop and TSA checkpoint for connecting passengers. I've only flown through JFK once and don't remember it well, but at every other US airport I've connected at, there has been literally zero queue at baggage recheck and at most a few minutes at the TSA point. – David Richerby Aug 4 '19 at 11:39
  • @DavidRicherby I think you are confirming that instances of US airports (i.e. not JFK) requiring international-transfers are required to undergo a TSA inspection? If you would care to list any that would be nice. – gatorback Aug 4 '19 at 13:44
  • @DavidRicherby Very, very few airports have dedicated TSA checkpoints for intl->domestic arrivals. – Doc Aug 4 '19 at 15:50
  • Whether or not there's a baggage drop, if the OP has to change terminals at JFK (other than using the Delta bus between Terminals 2 and 3), he must leave airside, take the AirTrain to the other terminal, and re-endure the TSA security check as though he'd just come to the airport from his apartment in Brooklyn. – DavidSupportsMonica Aug 4 '19 at 16:00
  • @gatorback Yes, you always have to be inspected. As both answers say, you've had access to your checked luggage and you could have taken things out of it that you're not allowed to bring as cabin luggage. – David Richerby Aug 4 '19 at 17:12

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